Brunswick Stew--These Are Fighting Words?

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I THINK WE CAN ALL AGREE that the South is, well, home to a great many feuds. From the Upper South Hatfield-McCoy battles to football fights, people in the South are scrappy and ready to debate whatever the issue. One of the oddest ones, though, is soup.

            Or, more accurately, stew. Brunswick stew. Brunswick County, VA and Brunswick, GA have been squaring off for over 100 years over which area actually created Brunswick stew. It’s a fascinating and complicated history, complete with a 25-gallon stew pot on a pedestal and hunting down Savannah newspapers from 1871 advertising “Old Virginia” Brunswick stew.

            No matter which area claims the pride of place, the truth is that the originators and inspiration for the stew were the indigenous peoples of the area. They would boil squirrel or groundchuck with hominy, or deer or bear meat with squash and fresh corn. Early settlers in Appalachia referred to it as survival cuisine or hunter stew; using whatever meat came to hand, as well as whatever fresh local ingredients they had available.

            You can see these origins of “use what you have” in the variations of the multitudinous recipes floating around, each one claiming to be “authentic.” With lima beans, without lima beans. With corn, with hominy. With pork. With rabbit. No, with chicken. No, with pork and chicken, but there must be okra... The list is endless.

            At any rate, today’s dish is a tomato-based, thick stew generally featuring garden products such as corn, potatoes, okra, and butter beans. Some add barbecue sauce, some add a great deal of cayenne. A simple home version can be found here, if you’re feeling interested in trying this ubiquitous Southern staple. For those who are up for a road trip, the annual Taste of Brunswick Festival is held in Lawrenceville, VA every October. Be warned, though; if you’re going there for the “authentic” taste, you’ve already picked a side!

 

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